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8 Sneaky Habits That Sabotage Your Heart

Everyday Factors That Can Harm Your Heart

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We all know that for optimum heart health we need to eat a healthy diet, exercise and not smoke. But did you know that the little things you do every day can have a big impact on the most important muscle in your body?

We put together a list of the eight habits that may be hurting your heart. You might be surprised how these "little" things add up! Are you guilty of any of these seemingly innocent mistakes?

1. You fly off the handle. Do you suffer from regular bouts of rage or intense anger at home, at work or in traffic? If so, your angry temperament may be hurting more than the people around you. While moderate anger can be a good way to release tension, explosive anger or chronic bouts of rage can increase your risk of heart disease.

A 2000 study published in the journal Circulation found that among almost 13,000 middle-aged African-American and white men and women with normal blood pressure, those who were the angriest had almost twice the risk of coronary artery disease and three times the risk of heart attack when compared to those with the lowest levels of anger. Researchers note that while anger can harm your heart, anxiety and other negative emotions probably also play a role. Anger and anxiety have been shown to increase blood pressure, disrupt the electrical impulses of the heart and possibly speed up the process of atherosclerosis, a fatty build up in the arteries.
Tips to help: Pause and take a deep breath when you feel anger coming on. A simple breathing activity can help, but taking steps to reduce stress—even if you're not feeling angry at the time—are also important.
2. You sleep too much (or too little). Getting fewer than five—or more than nine—hours of sleep a night can hurt your heart because both extremes elevate blood pressure and levels of stress hormones. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study of more than 71,000 women, ages 45 to 65, found that sleeping five or fewer hours each night increased the risk of coronary disease by a whopping 45%. Those who regularly slept nine or more hours had a 38% greater risk than those who slept eight hours—even after taking snoring and smoking in account.
Tips to help: Try these 7 steps to help you sleep better. If chronic insomnia is an issue for you, talk to you doctor and look into long-term sleep solutions that could help you.
3. You don't floss regularly. You may think that regular flossing just helps keep your pearly whites in tip-top shape, but research shows that dental disease and cardiac health are correlated. Researchers believe that inflammation from gum disease allows bacteria to enter your mouth’s blood vessels, travel into the coronary artery vessels, and narrow their passages. This reduces blood flow, which hurts the heart. In fact, people with coronary artery disease are 38% more likely to also have gum disease. While research is still being done in this area, it's best to keep that mouth healthy!
Tips to help: Set a goal to floss regularly, and track it until it becomes a habit.
4. You see the glass as half empty. Looking on the bright side isn't just about improving your mental state; it's also a boon to your heart. In a groundbreaking 2009 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation, researchers found that not only did optimism seem to protect against heart disease and death but also that pessimism seemed to increase the risk. Furthermore, subjects with the highest degree of hostility and cynicism were also more likely to die from all causes than those who had more upbeat attitudes. Pessimists were more likely than optimists to have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and suffer from depression (which has also been linked to poor heart health). Cynics are also more likely to be overweight, smoke and avoid exercise. All reason to start focusing on what's good in life, right?
Tips to help: You can actually become a more positive person—if you work at it. Here are some tips to fostering a stronger sense of gratitude, as well as unleashing your inner optimist.
5. You put off going to the doctor. Access to quality health care is an important factor for heart health, but you have to take advantage of it. That means always going to the doctor when you have an unusual symptom, and updating your medical records when your family history changes. Women should also be sure to alert their doctors to any changes in their menstrual periods, as certain conditions (such as polycystic ovary syndrome) can increase the risk of heart disease. In addition, regular check-ups and annual blood work can help you to better monitor medications and help you to track your weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and other important heart-health markers.
Tips to help: Set up a yearly reminder on your calendar to schedule a yearly physical—no ifs, ands or buts about it! Use SparkPeople's Planner to set up this reminder along with an email alert! Continued ›
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • I know I need to floss more often...luckily this is the only one on the list I'm guilty of, and occasional insomnia, which I've taken steps to correct. And I don't know if I'd really call them "sneaky." - 1/11/2016 7:17:12 PM
  • My family has a long history of heart disease. But they also have a long history of smoking, poor diets, low physical activity, anger issues, alcoholism, and generally accepting the fact that heart disease runs in the family and there's nothing you can do about it.

    I'm among the first generation to say, "But what if there IS something we can do about it?" - 1/11/2016 11:05:24 AM
  • Addendum to my previous comment: sleep, too, is dependent on the brain. For most people, a healthy brain will sleep properly, but many have conditions like REM sleep disorders which aren't readily treatable.

    In my case, I have a CPAP to control apnea, I take medications for my REM sleep disorder, and I practice good sleep hygiene... but two or three nights a week, I only get 4 - 5 hours of good sleep because I wake up intermittently.

    What am I supposed to do? "Hey brain, shape up and fly right!" When there's something organically wrong, it's not a bad habit, it's who you are. The best you can do is work around it.

    Some of this is confusion between thinking of the mind as something separate from the brain. When you realize the mind is an emergent property of the complex organ that is the brain, you realize we have a lot of control, but not total control, over the mind... and not all of the mind is under conscious control, anyway. If there's something organically wrong with the brain, that can't help but affect the mind and body, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes on a grand scale. It's not a "one size fits all" thing, and blaming some behaviors on "bad habits" perpetuates the myth that we are in total control, and therefore are completely responsible for everything we do, think, and express. We have a lot of control, but it's far from complete. - 4/16/2015 8:40:15 AM
  • I'm with MonaDM1 on this: some of these aren't really "habits", and some aren't "sneaky", as you put it.

    Yes, they are all bad for your heart. However, some cannot be avoided. Living in an area with bad air? Only works if you can afford to relocate. Sometimes #1, "flying off the handle", is a bad habit, but sometimes it's due to an underlying mental condition which may or may not not be treatable. Ever hear of bipolar disorder or intermittent explosive disorder? PTSD can cause angry outbursts too.

    I'd certainly agree drinking too much, not seeing doctors for health problems, or not flossing are "bad habits" (although not flossing is lacking a good habit, not having a bad habit), but some of the others may well be not under your control. - 4/16/2015 8:28:23 AM
  • Yes, yes, yes, establish a relationship with a PCP you trust. A few years ago, a severe kidney infection sent me to the ER on a Sunday. At the time, I hadn't seen a doctor since the birth of my youngest and he was finished kindergarten at the time. When I saw a doctor for a follow up, she listened to my heart, heard a murmur, and insisted it be checked out. I had been told there was a murmur before but never bothered to go for the tests. Turns out I have a serious congenital heart defect. Most people with that defect have it fixed before they go to school. I was 38. While the defect could be surgically repaired, the damage done to my heart by neglecting it for so long is irreversible. - 2/26/2015 1:34:50 PM
  • Look up the latest research on Oral health and heart health. You will find that it is indeed linked according to even the latest research from reputable sources. The link goes further. It is connected to diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis as well. All of these are inflammatory diseases. At the most basic level, it is based on inflammation making inflammation worse, just by being inflamed. Then add the bacteria and what it does within each disease. They have found the same bacteria involved in periodontal disease, in plaque in the arteries. Having these other diseases also makes perio worse and increases your chances of tooth loss. - 1/20/2015 12:26:58 PM
  • I'd like to add 2 things. First, dehydration can also be bad for your heart. While I doing know how much I believe in the "8 glasses of water a day thing" (it sometimes seems like a bit too much and sometimes seems to do my body more harm than good), I DO think it's important to listen to your body, cut out or limit foods and drinks that increase dehydration (such as sodas and coffee drinks with excess sugar and caffeine), and drink water when you feel thirsty. When I listen to my body and drink when I'm thirsty, I feel better and less stressed throughout the day, my circulation seems a bit better (don't have as much swelling in the lower legs when I sit or stand for long periods), and I don't go to the bathroom so much at night (when I used to focus on drinking a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day, I was up every hour going to the bathroom and not getting a good amount of sleep, which we've just learned is bad for our hearts). I've also noticed that cutting out excess caffeine and sugar in drink form helps me to feel better and not so jittery / on edge throughout the day.

    Also, this article is a great argument for taking vacations more often. When we take a well-planned and properly funded vacation (we don't want to increase stress by spending money we shouldn't or upsetting our bosses by trying to vacation and inopportune times), we can relieve stress, brighten our outlook on life, reconnect with the family and even get away to areas with less pollution. We can also make more time for exercise and active outings and get better sleep. So if you're the type who doesn't vacation often (or makes lots of excuses for why it's never a good time to take a vacation), consider your health and the health of your family. Vacations don't have to be super costly or last a very long time, but if you live in a large city and are always on the go, you probably need it more than most. The next time you start feeling a little overwhelmed, why not plan a short weekend trip to the beach or a lake? You can do all sorts of activities that won't make you se... - 1/20/2014 12:21:25 PM
  • They should update this to be consistent with their sleep quiz that says 6 not 5 hours of sleep. - 6/23/2013 8:25:02 AM
  • Staying inside to avoid weather conditions that aggravate my asthma stalls my health in many ways. Damage done living in LA with a smoking father has not been reversed over the last 40 years. - 3/4/2013 4:15:22 PM
    Why would you characterize living or working in a polluted area as a "sneaky" habit? Or many of the other factors you mentioned, for that matter....

    "Sneaky" means "underhanded", and I am sure lots of people who live or work where the air is not clean do not have much choice, until we address the problem, as a society.

    No, I didn't wake up grumpy, this morning, trying to find any pretext to get all worked up... I have just become more sensitive to the way we induce guilt in ourselves through language... "cheating" on a diet, "sneaky" habits....

    While guilt drives sales, it doesn't do much for self esteem and usually backfires. Instead of making positive changes, we seem to be more likely to adhere to the habits that make us feel guilty.... - 3/2/2013 12:07:35 PM
  • It would be nice if I could find a competent doctor. So far all they want to do is test and prescribe. After all the testing and prescribing I end up worse than I started. I've had PCOS for over 20 years, but still don't have an official diagnosis. We did thousands of dollars testing on my thyroid and then nothing was done. I say, " Find a good NATUROPATHIC doctor. They do more good for you in the long run." - 3/2/2013 10:28:42 AM
  • I need more rest. - 12/16/2012 4:31:57 PM
  • i sleep 8-10 hr. best thing ever. - 12/16/2012 3:17:37 PM
    Also, I have heard that women of child-bearing age are naturally protected against heart disease? How true is this? - 12/15/2012 12:12:05 PM
  • I wish there was a link to Facebook for this article so I could share it with my friends and family. - 12/15/2012 11:16:33 AM

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